Three Ways LEED has Shaped the Green Building Marketplace

What a difference seven years makes! Before the LEED Canada rating system launched in 2004, the green building market was but a hint of the active economy it is today. 

Although Enermodal has been in the building energy efficiency business for 30 years, it wasn’t until LEED and its third-party certification that we saw a real interest from a broad range of developers looking for sustainable design. Recently, Enermodal hit a milestone with our 100th LEED certified project. This makes for a great opportunity to look back at ways LEED has helped the Canadian BD+C industry evolve.

1 — Creating a demand for sustainable buildings

Enermodal has seen a variety of “carrot” approaches to encouraging green buildings. The 1980s and 1990s, saw a variety of energy incentive-based programs from utilities and governments. For example the Commercial Building Incentive Program (CBIP) by Natural Resources Canada helped to stimulate the market for energy modelling and make buildings hit a 25 per cent energy target. However, when these financial programs ended, as CBIP did in 2005, the market dried up. Similarly, government programs targeting green buildings like C2000 were also entirely dependent on government funding. 

LEED was developed by the private sector, first in the United States and then in Canada. While governments support LEED, the USGBC and CaGBC operate outside the government so are less dependent on shifting funding and partisan priorities. LEED created a marketing tool that CEOs, developers, tenants, school boards, and marketing departments could understand and ask for. In advanced commercial markets like Toronto, where developers are looking for any way to differentiate their condo or office tower from the one across the street, LEED provides a tangible marketing – and performance – benefit.

The question around the design table used to be, “Why are we going green?” Now the question is, “Why aren’t we going for LEED?”

2 — Third-party, quantified “green building”

Before LEED, tenants and visitors in high performance buildings often asked, “How do you know this building is really green?” This was often a hard question to answer because there was no universal definition of green. Given the amount of green-washing in the marketplace today, it is natural that the public wants to have certain standards. LEED helps create “intelligent” demand for green buildings as the consumers (from developers to members of the public) know what to look for in a green building.

Today, only a few people are green-washing or LEED “shadowing” where they say they are following the principles of LEED but not going through the rigorous certification and review process – a sure way to guarantee the building is not living up to the high standards set by LEED.

3 — New material markets

When one market expands – like green buildings – other markets naturally rise as well, such as the market for sustainable materials.

Enermodal’s first LEED Canada project was Stratus Winery in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont. In 2004, construction teams were not familiar with the correct ways to separate waste by material to allow for recycling, and there were not the diversity of construction waste recycling facilities there are today. As a result, the design and construction team had to work hard to get 50 per cent construction waste diversion. Today, Enermodal considers it standard practice for its Ontario projects to get at least 90 per cent waste diversion with a lot less effort expended in educating the contractor.

Another early LEED Canada project for Enermodal was E’Terra Inn in Tobermory, Ont. The owner of this primarily wood building wanted to pursue the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) wood credit under LEED. At the time, there was almost no market for FSC wood particularly in northern locations so, despite the best efforts of the design team, the project was unable to use 50 per cent FSC-certified wood as the LEED credit demands. Today, many of Enermodal’s projects get this credit and some, like the Port Hope Community Health Centre, use 100 per cent FSC certified wood.  

Similar market evolutions have occurred with recycled and salvaged materials. A number of companies specializing in sourcing salvaged construction materials have popped up in the last few years. While some may criticize the LEED process as being too simplistic or onerous, LEED has made some fundamental, progressive changes to building marketplace over the past seven years. I look forward to seeing what our next 100 LEED certified buildings look like.  

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